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Ancient Greek Temples Architecture Term Paper


Architecture is an art of building using a design that attracts some kind of aesthetic value. Greek architecture can be defined as the architecture brought about by the Greek i.e., the Hellenistic people. Between 900 BC and 1stAD, the Hellenistic people’s culture prospered in the Greek mainland. The most important aspects of Greek architecture can be observed in places such as Peloponnesus, Aegean Islands, Asia Minor, and Italy. The earliest forms of Hellenistic architecture included temples, Open-air theatre, Public Square (agora), processional gateway (Propylon), public monuments, monumental tombs (mausoleum), bouleuterion and the stadiums.

Although most of the above-named features are found only as ruins, a few of them are still intact. Much of the original Greek architectural forms exist only as ruins because they were built using mud and wood. Lack of written documents about them makes it difficult to explain exactly how they were like. However, given Romans copied the Greek mode of construction, then Roman Architecture can be used as a reference.

Temples form a good number of buildings that still stand, and this is why this paper mainly refers to temples. The temple architecture has a distinguishing characteristic from the rest of the buildings. This is in terms of their structure and decoration. The architecture took a longer period to be developed, and thus, more advancement and features were added on the architectures overtime. Most architecture in Greece reflected on how people led their lives in terms of culture and their traditions. Consequently, Greek architecture reflects the time each feature was constructed. Religion formed a better part of Greek life, and because of this, temples built during earlier times were bigger and most beautiful. These temples, not only played a religious function but also were instruments of political influence, wherein thanksgiving were made in case of victory in a war. In addition, political power and pride were also celebrated in these temples. This indicates how architecture played a great role in portraying people’s lifestyles.

Greek Architectural Styles

There are three major known styles in Greek architecture; these styles are also known as orders. They include; Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These orders played a critical role in how temples were designed and built (Ancient Greece).In most circumstances, Doric and Ionic systems were primarily used, and they illustrated the systems of Dark Ages’ of Dorian and Ionian Greeks (Greek Architecture).

Doric order

This style is brawny with a plain top. It was found in mainland Greece and South Italy, among other places in Greece. The Parthenon temple constructed in the 5th century BC was constructed using this system. Although this temple has been greatly damaged repeatedly, the strength of Doric systems has enabled it to withstand.

Athena Parthenon’s Temple
Athena Parthenon’s Temple (Ancient Greece)

Ionic order

Compared to Doric order, Ionic order is thinner and more stylish with a scroll-like design as decoration at its top. Its origin was in Ionia around the Mid-6th century (Ancient Greece). The temple of Hera was the first one to use this style though, after a decade, it collapsed by an earthquake. The style of Hera was mostly common in Islands and some parts of Eastern Greece. Other common temple buildings with this order were; Erechtheum; this temple was built between 421-405 BC on Athens’ Acropolis. During this time, there was also a need for many shrines, which were to be built on a sloppy landscape; this led to the necessity of an unusual plan that could allow access to all of the other shrines in Greece.

Didyma’s Temple of Apollo

This temple was built in Turkey about 300 BC. It had ionic columns of about 19.5m high. The same design was also applied in the construction of the Temple of Athena Nike. Presently, the ruins of the temples give a clear indication that the ionic system was applied, especially with the columns that still stand strong. An important point to note is the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. This temple was built using the Ionic order and formed the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built in the 6th century and has survived up to date (Greek Architecture).

A sample of ionic system columns (Ancient Greece)
A sample of ionic system columns (Ancient Greece)

Corinthian order

Architecture Callimachus was the person behind this great invention. This was after observing a basket left on a young girl’s grave. Corinthian system or order was the latest and came into full completion in the middle of the 4th century BC (Winter 70). Although this order was rarely used, a few structures that made use of the system can be mentioned, such as the Choragic monument built in 335 BC, Zeus’ temple in Athens constructed in the 2nd century, and this was the most known among the temples of Corinth. Another known and oldest temple that used this order is the Apollo Bassae constructed in 420 BC (Winter 126).

An example of the Corinthian system (Ancient Greece)
An example of the Corinthian system (Ancient Greece)

Periods of Greece Architecture

Greek architecture can be divided into several categories depending on the time in which they were built. These categories comprise of the following;

Minoan civilization

This civilization was between 1800 – 1300 BC, and it is the earliest known architectural period in Greece. Prosperity for this civilization was witnessed in the Island of Crete. Knossos palace that is founded on a hill, formed a major achievement of this period. This palace has been well preserved, and thus the most attractive in Knossos. Surrounding the palace are several residential buildings, for example, the Royal Villa, the little palace, and the South House. Lack of protective walls in the city and remains of the palace is a clear indication that some kind of harmony existed between the Minoans and the rest of Aegean civilizations. Today, the palace is divided into two wings; the West, which consists of religious and offices for the state, and the East used for other various goals such as domestic and workshops.

Discovery of the untouched Knossos frescoes by the scientists has led to the conclusion that this palace was destroyed by the powerful volcanic eruptions, which took place around 1450BC in Santorini (Greece Architecture). Archeologists have discovered scenery full of palaces, tombs, towns, roads, and villas; all these structures severed various purposes such as commerce, administration, and religion.

During this civilization, palaces began constructing back in 1900 BC, and they were used for diverse functions such as; meetings, celebrations, workshops, and stores for crops. Strategic places on the Island, such as; low hills, were chosen to build these palaces. The complexity of these palaces made them look like labyrinths, especially for new members in the region. Some of the palaces were high buildings corded with very beautiful staircases both in the inside and outside.

In the exterior meeting, apartments were common, and they acted as theaters and enormous columns. The technology used for their construction was very advanced because of the various services that were available. Some of these technologies included; deep wells as a source of water for use by the occupants, irrigation systems, advanced drainage systems, and bridges. Besides, Rough stones, ceramic bricks, and mortar were major construction materials for inside walls, while hefty rectangular slabs were used for the construction of the corners of the palace (Hawes and Harriet 57).

During Minoan civilization, Tholos Tombs, sacred caves, Pithoi, and larnakes were used for burial purposes. The ancient Tholos Tombs had a round shape, with a few of them taking a rectangular shape. These tombs had a single entrance. Although most of them have been destroyed, the few surviving ones have only the lower side of the wall, making it difficult to measure their heights or determine their shape from an aerial angle (Minoan Architecture. Believe sexists that many of these tombs had a flat roof that was made of wood. The largest Tomb is 13 meters wide, and it is found in Plato’s (Phoenician Architecture). It is during the prepalatai and protopalatai time (2600-1700 BC) that the Tholos tombs were greatly in use.

Minoan Roads; Palaces and towns of Crete were connected by paved roads with the first roads being constructed during the Neopalatai period and coming to completion in the Post palatai time (Minoan Architecture). Although many of the paved roads have been destroyed beyond recognition, some still remain intact and are found in the Minoan ruins.

Minoan Towns; it was during the Neo-palatai era, that is, between 1700-1400 BC, that towns began forming around palaces. These towns included Gournia, palekastro, Pseira, and Mochlos, all of which lay on a well put plan. Each home had its own shrine and storage magazine.

Minoan villas; these were majorly found along Crete’s countryside. They closely resembled palaces and consisted of story building homes, religious places, workshops, and storage magazines.

Mycenaean period

Is the period between 1600-1100 BC, and it is called the Bronze Age period. It acquired its name from Mycenae, which is an archeological site of North Eastern Argolis. Other major Mycenaean sites include; Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns. Unlike the Minoan civilization, the Mycenaean period was characterized by war. Strong and tall walls were built in order to hold on the citadels. These walls compact, and they were called Cyclopean because of the reason that it was only the Cyclopes that were believed to have the capability of lifting the stones used for their construction. Although the Mycenae palace was destroyed, remains of walls and tombs are still seen. Most vital features, such as the palace, cult center, grave circle, and the lion gate, are still in place. It is also in this period that the earlier discussed styles, that is, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian fall.

According to Cline (38), the above-mentioned civilization performed and expanded greatly during the Bronze Age period, approximately 3000 to 1000 BC. It was also during this period that many developments took place, such as the initial growth of trade, not only in Aegean but also in the Mediterranean Sea, technological advancement in art, especially in the media field and growth of Greek religion and associated cultural practices. Apart from the developments, this period also experienced wars between the locals due to their existing differences that have made it be associated with the origin of Homer’s Trojan War.

Minoan and Mycenaean periods form the major divisions of the Greek architecture. However, other architecture exists, such as the Byzantine architecture that saw the emergence of a great number of churches in Greece (Cline 79). These churches are unique, and they varied from place to place. Stone is the major building material, and at times basilica is used. The plan used for their construction is symmetrical, and their interior is decorated using frescoes and using references for their appearances in the bible. Famous structures of this style that have stood up to the present time are the; Thessaloniki churches currently, UNESCO World Heritage Monument, and Kastoria’s seventy-five monasteries (Winter 66).

Roman Architecture borrowed greatly from Greek architecture, and most of its buildings, temples, and theaters portray a similar style like that in Greece. Well-known examples are; the Roman Agora, Herodes Atticus theatre, and Haridian’s Arch. Another important style is Neoclassical. This style has a combination of modern and classical styles. This style was embraced in 1821 after the independence war in Greece. Architectures such as Hernest and Theophil had a great contribution to the design of this style. Examples of buildings with this kind of order include; Hotels in central Athens, Museums, and the National library found on Panepistimiou Avenue (Greece Architecture).

Macedonian architecture

This type of architecture has its origin in the Bronze- Iron ages whereby construction was made out of large limestone blocks. The technique used in construction was termed cyclopean, big sizes, and their well-defined joints made mortar useless as the two could hold the construction strongly. Until the end of the 14th century, this technique was largely used for the construction of churches (Winter 102). Although not many of this architecture are available at present, some ruins exist at Prosek. Other features that used this technology included; mosques, baths, Turkish inns, and clock towers; these occupied most parts of Skopje and Bitola towns.

In the present day, well- known house of this architectural style is the National Museum of Ohrid, a major tourist attraction in the town. This building forms fantastic scenery, and this has made UNESCO take responsibility for it. Although most of the houses built during this period still stand strong, their renovation and maintenance are very costly, and this has led to their present desperate state. Macedonia has a number of villages, though not well known, they form a big contribution to the peoples’ culture. Owned by the marginal class, these villages attribute Macedonia a sense of uniqueness.

These villages included; Galicnik that up to the present is used for marriage rituals by young men who are always for work. On their return, Galicnik village becomes a merry-making site. Maloviste is also another example of a village in Macedonia that holds much of this country’s culture. Previously, it was used for trading purposes, but presently, it is being renovated for heritage and cultural purposes. Spiritual inns such as; monasteries also exist, and they include; SvJoakim Osogovski, Treskavec, Sv Jovan Bigorski, and many more (Thammy 84).

Phoenician architecture

This architecture has its origin from the act of carvings on the rocks that were naturally found all over the place. These rocks were used for many purposes, such as temples, tombs, and dwellings. Owing to the fact that limestone is soft and has a lot of fissures and caverns, they were easy to work on, and this made people convert them into dwelling rooms, though with time, the caves became small and led to the need for more houses for settlement. The Phoenicians used a mixture of styles, which they saw along as they traveled (Thammy 97). Examples of such dwelling places that can be found today are; ancient Marathus and dwelling -house of Amrith. In these structures, a rock is cut in a way that two walls parallel to each other are left standing. Doors and windows are made out of these walls, and rocks are used for masonry purposes for joinery.

This architecture majorly used the native rock as the main constructing material, and a mixture of styles was incorporated. After sometimes, the native rocks got extinct, and subtractions were used. A good example of such a building is the temple of Jerusalem. In instances where small stones were used, the mortar was necessary, but where large stones were available, the mortar was unnecessary as the stones were just laid side by side. Phoenicians’ buildings were irregular due to the sense that the stones hewn were roughly fitted, and as such, these buildings acquired the name Cyclopian (Phoenician Architecture).


Greek architecture is divided into various periods, as discussed in this paper. Additionally, art depended on the community; it is not universal art. The diversity exhibited reflects different cultures and different forms of technology that was used for construction. Mainly, ruins of temples, tombs, cities, and churches are available, and they contribute largely to the explanation of how these architectures were employed. Most of the structures in major cities of the world borrowed much from Greek architecture. Through the information presented in this paper, it is clear in what ways Greek architecture was copied. Many other nations copied from the Greek because most of the Greek architecture existed during the prehistoric era. Three systems were used, which included the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Works Cited

Ancient Greece. Architectures in Ancient Greece. 2008. Web.

Cline, Eric H. The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.

Thammy, Evans. Macedonia. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides, 2007.

Greece Architecture. A Guide to the Architecture of Greece and the Greek Island. 2011. Web.

Greek Architecture. Ancient Civilization. 2009. Web.

Hawes, Charles Henry, and Harriet Boyd Hawes. Crete, the Forerunner of Greek. London: Harper & Bros., 1922.

Minoan Architecture. Greek Architecture. 2003. Web.

Phoenician Architecture. Origin of the Architecture in Rock Dwellings. 2011.

Winter, Frederick E. Studies in Hellenistic Architecture. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2006.

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